In historic light cavalry, if a rider was using a lance, how many times could it be reused? How long before it became a liability by getting someone stuck on the end of it, or got snagged on a body and ripped out of his hands, possibly destabilizing the rider in the process?

I read a scene in an unfinished fantasy novel. In it he had a guy using a lance against multiple enemies while on a charging horse. My brain hiccuped at that, which usually signifies the need for an editor note, but I wanted to double check. A Google search provided mostly information about that scenario in a table top game.

In this case, it's a rabble near a dock facing a different enemy who has now been surprised from behind by light Calvary. The writer had the lead horseman making it all the way to the dock, using his lance as a weapon to "take down anyone not fast enough to get out of the way". But if the horse is moving at a brisk pace, isn't he going to lose the lance after only a few pokey pokey stab stabs?

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    I'm looking forewards to see how it gets answered here. :) Jun 17, 2016 at 1:10
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a better fit for Writers SE. It's really about "writing," not history.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 17, 2016 at 5:24
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    @TomAu - it would get closed on WritersSE as off topic as it's a research question and not actually anything to do with the process of writing.
    – user17382
    Jun 17, 2016 at 5:56
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    @TomAu - No, it most assuredly does not belong on Writers. I was asked about this question specifically in the Teacher's Lounge, and told them it would be arguably on topic here (chiefly because I know we have some users who would love to answer it), and the only other stack I could think of that might take it would be Martial Arts.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 17, 2016 at 14:02
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    I've attempted to do what I suggest, although now I have a feeling Mark will not like the lack of research...
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 17, 2016 at 17:39

1 Answer 1


Using the Wikipedia article as source, lances were indeed once-use items for shock attacks. If they hadn't splintered then they were sure to have gotten stuck, so they were intended to be dropped.

This is with the heavy lances most people seem to have in mind, when they think of a charge by heavily armoured knights.

However, anecdotal, I'm friends with people who are into reenactment of mounted medieval warfare. Mostly mounted archery, but they also practise with lances. Using the lighter and shorter lances used both before and after the era of the heavy knight, they practise "pokey pokey stab stab" while both holding on to the weapon, removing it from the target it got stuck in, getting it back into position to stick it into a new target. All this in full gallop or at least fast trot.

The idea is to be able to hold the lance firmly in the moment of stabby-stab and then loosen the grip allowing the hand to slide along the shaft while riding over the target. Once past, with an again-tightened grip, you use momentum to pull the lance with you and out of the target.

There's likely to be videos out there, but I'm only familiar with some of the ones they have on their Facebook group and from watching them during practise.

Edit: to integrate some of the comments

It should also be noted that, contrary to our image of the charging and heavily armoured knight (and horse) with long lances braced against the rider, this was only a late medi-eval development.

Especially before the introduction of the stirrup, using shorter lances for throwing and over-arm stabbing - as used by Persian, Median or Gothic tribes - would have been not just more common, but rather the only way to exert thrust without Newton teaching you a lesson in physics.

The stirrup changed much: it allowed knights to brace themselves for maximum forward thrust, it allowed mounted archers to stand in them to stabilise their aim.

In all cases, the best horse warriors came from cultures in which it was trained "from birth". Even the Romans always remained an infantry: cavalry came from the Alae - the cultures allied with them. Any attempt by a non-equestrian to ride a horse in battle would end quickly and tragically. In fact, not even riding in battle would quite possibly end tragically, for horse and rider.

  • Can you share the Facebook Group name so that I can watch the videos? Perhaps he can keep the general idea with a rework or two after watching the videos.
    – Inessaria
    Jun 17, 2016 at 2:32
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    @Inessaria Search for Medieval Horse Sports Australia, though I'd presume there's others as well.
    – Marakai
    Jun 17, 2016 at 2:35
  • Thank you, I was able to find that group and will check out their videos.
    – Inessaria
    Jun 17, 2016 at 2:37
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    I can see this working only for "Cossack-style" light irregular cavalry. However for formed cavalry I see this being a liability - too great a chance of tripping a colleague's horse in a hip-to-hip charge. Note also that typically only the first rank of a two-rank cavalry formation carried lances. Jun 17, 2016 at 4:35
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    Many horsemen like the Persians, Medes and ancient Germans used their spears (not lances) overhand. While it decreases the force behind the point as the spear can't be couched, it might make it a lot easier to pull the lance out.
    – Jeroen K
    Jun 17, 2016 at 9:18

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